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difference as a difference until one has formed a concept of it.
This is what I meant in arguing earlier that human beings are not in them-
selves unequivocally complex or diverse, for the truth is that they may be either.
The set of experiences that we sometimes describe as constituting the concept
of a human being may be regarded as simple or uniform for some purposes,
by those who see the experiences as characteristically human for example, and
yet may be regarded as complex or diverse for other purposes, by those who
see the experiences as characteristic of some human beings but not of others.
Reality itself is not diverse, strictly speaking, although it is susceptible to di-
verse interpretation. Rather, it is concepts that are diverse, and accordingly it is
only the diversity of concepts that we can contemplate the af¬rmation of. The
¬rst way in which I regard the appeal to diversity as misleading, then, is in its
assumption that diversity is a fact about reality that is available for us to af¬rm.
The second source of diversity is in the concepts that can be applied to any
given portion of reality. As I have also indicated, even where reality is uniform in
128 the value of diversity

content there is often great diversity in the concepts through which we organize
and understand that reality. In particular, two cultures may hold very different
concepts of what it means to be a woman despite the fact that there is little or
no difference in the reality upon which those concepts are based.
Yet once again this form of conceptual diversity is not a form of diversity
that it is possible simply to af¬rm in itself. We cannot af¬rm all concepts of
human difference, or even all concepts of what it means to be a woman, ¬rst,
because concepts are linked to purposes and cannot be af¬rmed in isolation
from them; second and consequently, because not all purposes are relevant in
any particular culture; and third, because not all purposes that are relevant are
valuable. This is the second way in which I believe that the appeal to diversity
is misleading, and it is one that I take up in the next section.
The third source of diversity is again in the concepts that can be applied
to any given portion of reality. Different cultures often have different ways
of conceiving the experience of what it means to be a woman, even where
there is no difference in that experience. One way in which cultures do this
is by developing subordinate distinctions, so that they see women in terms of
their race, or sexual orientation, or income, or political af¬liation, or artistic
inclination, or otherwise, rather than in terms of an undifferentiated picture
of womanhood. In light of this possibility, the appeal to diversity might be
understood as an appeal for the af¬rmation of as many distinctions as possible,
within the concept of a human being in general and within the concept of what
it means to be a woman in particular.
This, again, is not a form of diversity that it is possible simply to af¬rm.
On the one hand, the attempt to do so would initiate an endless process of
particularization that would destroy the solidarities upon which much of our
life together is based. On the other hand, the attempt to do so would do as much
to destroy difference as to honour it, given that every form of solidarity is as
much a form of difference as any of the distinctions that can be found within
it. This is the third way in which I believe the appeal to diversity is misleading,
and it is one that I take up in the ¬nal section of this chapter.


II. The Relevance of Diversity
To return to the second way in which I regard the appeal to diversity as mislead-
ing, the choice between complex and simple approaches to the understanding
of human beings and the lives they lead cannot, as I have argued, be resolved
by appeal to the facts of human existence, since every aspect of that existence
is open to both simple and complex understanding. On the contrary, the choice
between those approaches in any particular social setting can be resolved only
in light of a proper appreciation of what it means to understand human be-
ings in simple or complex terms, an awareness of the role that such modes of
understanding play in the formation and development of a successful human
II. The Relevance of Diversity 129

life, and an argument that would warrant the adoption of one understanding
rather than the other in the setting in question.
It is true that certain understandings of human existence and the qualities
that constitute it are endorsed by many, perhaps most, societies. Yet the fact that
endorsement of those understandings is widespread is evidence not that their
endorsement is compelled by the facts of human existence, but that a number
of societies have purposes in common. It remains the case that it takes a social
purpose, whether widely or narrowly held, to make particular understandings of
existence matter in any of the cultures in which they matter. The endorsement of
certain social purposes, and the simplicity and complexity about human beings
that it establishes, are facts about a culture and its objects, and hence about
the understanding of human beings in that culture, not brute facts about human
beings or the necessary consequence of such facts.
The appeal to diversity is misleading, then, because to state that human beings
are complex is unintelligible without some point of reference against which it is
possible to assess complexity, that will enable us to know in what respects and
for what purposes human beings are said to be complex. It is also misleading
because that point of reference cannot be discovered by looking to the facts
of human existence or to the concept of complexity. Any assertion of human
complexity that is intelligible involves taking a position in an argument about
how human beings should be understood in a particular setting. It cannot pretend
to transcend that argument through an appeal to complexity as a fact about
humanity.6 As far as women are concerned, this means that sexual difference
can be rationally af¬rmed only where there is reason to do so, that reason being
the relevance and value of the recognition of that difference to the success of
some woman™s life.
The relation between these interconnected criticisms of the appeal to human
diversity may be illustrated with a familiar image, namely, the concept of snow,
for which it is popularly although probably inaccurately said that the Inuit have
no general understanding but rather a wide range of separate understandings,
each of which distinguishes a particular kind of snow with a particular signi¬-
cance for the Inuit way of life. In contrast to the Inuit, people whose lives are
led in climates that are snow-free for much of the year, such as those who live
in southern rather than northern Canada, are likely to have only a limited range
of understandings of snow, those necessary to decide on the right ski wax, per-
haps, and indeed would probably more commonly think of snow in a general
sense, as snow. And at the opposite extreme from the Inuit, as an exile from the
southern United States living in Montreal, Jesse Winchester complained that
all snow¬‚akes looked alike to him, and that every one was a dirty shame.

6 Of course, even were it possible to establish that human beings are complex by nature, it would
still need to be established that there is an obligation to honour that complexity in all its detail,
even were it coherent to do so. On that issue, see the ¬nal section of this chapter.
130 the value of diversity

None of these understandings is false to the nature of snow, which is clearly
susceptible to both complex and simple description. Rather, each accurately
expresses the role that snow plays in the lives and culture of those who
variously describe it in simple or in complex terms. That is to say, in each of
these settings what matters is not the fact of snow as a physical object and the
question of ¬delity to its nature, but rather the community within which and
for which snow acquires signi¬cance, and the particular meaning and value
that snow consequently has and ought to have within that community.
What is true of snow in these settings is also true of the human beings
for whom snow has its signi¬cance, who not only can be but are understood
in both simple and complex terms according to the role that their simplicity
and their complexity play in the cultures in which those understandings arise.
What matters in the ongoing construction of those cultures is not so much
the physical facts of human existence, but the meaning and value that we be-
lieve those facts have and ought to have in a particular culture. The facts of
existence set conditions for the establishment of concepts, which once created
become facts of existence themselves, but facts that matter to a particular cul-
ture only if they have some bearing for the kind of people who make up that
culture and the kind of society that they inhabit.
It might be objected at this point that I have treated human diversity and
complexity as if they are equivalent to one another, whereas in fact they have
rather different meanings. The most straightforward response to the objection
is to point out that although complexity and diversity are indeed independent
concepts, what is true of complexity in this regard is also true of diversity. Human
beings are not in fact inherently diverse any more than they are inherently
complex. It is true, of course, that they can be distinguished from one another
and therefore regarded as different from one another, qualitatively as well as
numerically, where there is reason to do so, as when we seek to respond to their
individual needs or aspirations. It follows that human beings are susceptible
to diverse understanding in a way that manufactured goods are not, in the
same sense that they are susceptible to complex understanding in a way that an
amoeba perhaps is not.
It is also true, however, that human beings can be assimilated to one another
where there is reason to do so, as when we seek to af¬rm their solidarity as
members of a species, as citizens of a nation, or as contributors to a culture.
Just like complexity, in other words, diversity is not a quality inherent in human
beings but a product of the concepts that we use to understand them and the
purposes that those concepts serve, which make certain facts about human be-
ings relevant and meaningful and so make possible the recognition of diversity.
It follows that human diversity, where it exists, is as apt to be the product of a
spectrum of social purposes as it is to be the product of the spectrum of physi-
cal or psychological facts about human beings that those social purposes make
relevant. In other words, there is as much human diversity in the recognition of
II. The Relevance of Diversity 131

¬fty ways to appreciate a human quality as there is in the recognition of ¬fty
human qualities to appreciate in a particular way.
A second objection might be put forward here, one that I have already referred
to but have yet to address fully. It might be argued that over the course of history
certain social purposes have been so powerfully and comprehensively linked
to certain human features that have consistently mattered to societies of all
kinds that those purposes ought to be regarded as implicit in the features in
question. Such features, it would then be claimed, possess a necessary import
that makes a particular meaning and no other relevant to the conduct of life
in human societies. It would follow that societies that neglect or suppress that
meaning neglect or suppress what every human society must acknowledge as
fundamental to human existence. On this kind of reasoning it could be argued
that the appeal to diversity is an appeal for the af¬rmation of features of this
kind, with established connections to certain social purposes.
Understood in this way, however, the appeal to diversity would be intelli-
gible but would also lack any transformative power. It would be an appeal no
longer to forms of human difference we have failed to notice but to forms of
human difference we have always noticed and in the same way. As a basis for
a feminist argument, one that seeks a transformation in our present view of
sexual identity, the objection needs to be understood somewhat differently. It
should be understood not as a claim about certain historical patterns of social
understanding that have established the inevitability of the social meanings that
history has endorsed but as a broader claim about human character, one that
takes those historical patterns to constitute evidence that social purposes are
implicit in all signi¬cant aspects of that character, only some of which we have
historically acknowledged and the rest of which we have suppressed.
The claim would then be a claim that the signi¬cant differences between
human beings, including sex, are unlike other differences, such as those to
be found in snow, in that their relevance does not derive from the needs and
purposes of a particular social order. On the contrary, those facts of our character
determine the ways in which they ought to matter to us and hence determine
the kind of society we ought to have, rather than the kind of society in which
we live determining what in the facts of our character might possibly matter
to us, in the way that it determines what in the character or composition of
snow might matter to us. Proponents of this point of view would acknowledge
that we have in practice often ignored what they see as the necessary import of
human differences such as sex, but they would argue that in doing so we have
erred. In fact, they would say, we have no distinctive choice to make about sex
or any other signi¬cant form of human difference. There are no two ways to
understand such differences, and no legitimate way to ignore their signi¬cance.
Even assuming, however, that so understood the appeal to diversity would
possess the kind of transformative power that would make it attractive to femi-
nists, it would no longer be an appeal to diversity as such, but rather an appeal
132 the value of diversity

to a set of differences that have been labelled as signi¬cant. The labelling of
those differences as signi¬cant, or as natural, is no more than a covert way of
expressing the purposes of the society that creates the label and applies it to
the purposes that are important to it and the differences that they make matter.
It is not a way of avoiding the need for purposes. On the contrary, it is a way
of assuming the priority of certain purposes without arguing for it, argument
being subverted by the use of the term signi¬cant. It remains the case, therefore,
that it is impossible simply to af¬rm diversity. We can af¬rm only those forms
of difference that are made relevant to us by the character and commitments of
our society and the purposes they engender.


III. The Value of Diversity
This brings me to the third way in which I believe the appeal to diversity is
misleading, which may be no more than another way of formulating my ¬rst
two objections to it. Let us assume that the appeal to diversity is understood
as a call for the creation of as many forms of human difference as possible, on
the ground that there is some value in their multiplication. In support of this
view it might be argued, perhaps, that variety is desirable in human beings and
a virtue in the arrangement of human societies. It would then be argued that
the neglect of variety, variety of any kind, is in and of itself an oppression of
human possibilities, and that if oppression is to be avoided, as it must be, human
differences should be sought out and unreservedly af¬rmed. In response to those
who would reply that social settings and social purposes are required in order to
establish the points of reference that make human variety real and intelligible,
supporters of diversity might simply reformulate their position in terms of such
purposes, so as to present that position as a call for the endorsement and pursuit
of whatever range of social purposes is required to engender the fullest degree
of human variety. The variety sought is neither that revealed by awareness of a
particular realm of human difference, be it sexual, racial, or cultural, nor that
constituted by the pursuit of a particular degree of human difference, such as
the degree of biological diversity sometimes thought necessary to maintain the
health of ecosystems. It is the variety that consists in as much human difference
as it is possible to imagine, a variety whose pursuit is predicated on the idea that
the neglect of any difference is an unwarranted oppression of that difference.
So understood, however, there is compelling reason to reject the af¬rmation
of diversity on its own terms. The third and most telling of the objections to the
appeal to human diversity, in my view, is that when framed in this comprehensive
and undiscriminating manner, it is not only misleading but false in the promise it
offers. The oppression of any given form of human difference cannot be ended
through the unquali¬ed af¬rmation of human diversity for the same reason
that deconstruction cannot be af¬rmed in its unfettered form. It is simply not
possible to af¬rm all forms of human difference, or to suggest that release from
III. The Value of Diversity 133

oppression can be found in doing so, not merely because many forms of human
difference are in con¬‚ict with one another, although they are, nor because many
forms of human difference are themselves oppressive or otherwise undesirable,
although they are, but because the very possibility of our existence as human
beings in human societies depends upon our establishing and maintaining a
degree of coherence in our existence that necessarily excludes a wide, indeed,
an in¬nite range of human differences from recognition.
Were human beings to try to af¬rm all forms of difference that might be
thought to lie within and between them, those that go unrecognized in the
present social order as well as those we already acknowledge, they would
destroy the solidarities upon which their individual and collective existences
depend, solidarities in and through which their very existences are conceivable
and thus consist. Difference and solidarity are mutually exclusive, at least in any
given dimension. Where difference is recognized, solidarity is denied. Where
differences are acknowledged in women™s experience and understanding of
sexuality, or in their experience of race and its consequences, as many lesbians
and black women contend they should be, the solidarity of women™s experience
in those dimensions comes to an end. It is of course possible that solidarity
would survive in other dimensions and for other purposes, that is, in settings
in which a less diverse or less detailed understanding of women continued to
apply. That would depend upon the profundity of the acknowledgment of the
distinctiveness of the experience of lesbians and black women. But it would
not be possible for solidarity among women to survive in any setting in which
the differences of sexual orientation and race were recognized and af¬rmed.
The more profound and comprehensive the pursuit of difference in any setting,
the less tenable will be any kind of solidarity and social value there.
As indicated in the discussion of diversity above, it is possible to maintain a
diverse understanding in one dimension and a uniform understanding in another,

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